It was a mistake, like discovering a crisp $100 bill on the sidewalk. A case full of tater tots arrived on Andrew Chen’s doorstep.
Monkey King Noodle Company’s sides, like bok choy charred with garlic and cucumber points soaking in a head-clearing spicy vinegar bath, are street food gems after cold beer. Still, Monkey King has never had tater tots. It must have been like the movie trope wherein a gently wrapped baby is left on a convent’s doorstep when Monkey King Noodle Company’s food supplier shipped the Deep Ellum restaurant a manger of tater tots.
So the staff did what all of us would do: fried the tater tots until crackly golden brown and smothered them with dan dan-style pork. Then, they did something beautiful and dastardly, like David Blaine’s street magic. They fried the tots and painted them with “nugget sauce" (a spicy mayo), scallion vinaigrette and their euphoria-inducing garlic-peanut sauce.
If you’re unfamiliar with Monkey King’s garlic peanut noodles, then you’ve missed the presence of Mount Olympus on the horizon. The restaurant flash-fries peanuts with handfuls of garlic. The mixture is blended with vinegar, sesame oil and a rich chili oil the color of a damn sunset. Scallions and cilantro rain on everything.
To be clear, Monkey King has done all of this to tater tots. After a forkful, I felt the urge to walk around the restaurant piously, providing everyone with a bite of the tots like a magnanimous cult leader. These are the tater tots that officially declare Deep Ellum as Dallas' street food leader.
Each tot cracks open with a gold rush of hot salt and oil. The chili oil lacquers the crunch. The cilantro and green onions snap like fresh grass.
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The Monkey King staff was enamored. They tested the tots during the Deep Ellum Arts Festival, and they were a smash hit. The dish is available in store only as a side for $8, but Chen is monitoring how they sell this month.
“It’s tots tossed in our monkey dust seasoning,” Chen says. “They are pretty bad-ass.”
The spicy dan dan pork-topped tater tots are special; the garlic peanut-topped tots, showered with green onions and lots of cilantro, are dangerous. You may approach with caution, like a creature that’s “sleeping” in a Ridley Scott film. It may have been an accident, but in the dish, you'll find acid, deep-fried crunch and garlic-peanut heaven — a triad that’s a new entry in our golden age of comfort food in Dallas.
Monkey Noodle Company, 2933 Main St.